DJ EFN Elevates DJ Albums & David Banner Explains One Potent Verse (Interview)
After 20 years of his life devoted to Hip-Hop music and culture, Miami, Florida-based DJ EFN stepped to the front with Another Time. Self-released, the studio album included more than 30 years of MC greats, spanning all regions, styles, and skill-sets. Scarface, Blu, Royce Da 5’9″, Killer Mike, MC Eiht, and Gunplay are just one possible cross-section of those included.
Nearly three months after its release, Another Time still beckons greater attention. Ambrosia For Heads spoke with DJ EFN about his long time coming creation. Additionally, AFH chatted with David Banner, a longtime friend of EFN’s, who appeared on “Warrior.” Banner, who admitted he is selective about feature work in 2015, dropped a fiery verse that spoke on multiple hot-button headline issues. With both men’s deep-seeded love for Hip-Hop culture and uplifting the voiceless, each artist had plenty to say in a conversation as comprehensive as the album that inspired it:
Ambrosia For Heads: Another Time may be the perfect title. You are a product of the days when compilations were artfully created, such as Soundbombing, Sway & Tech’s This Or That, and Funkmaster Flex’s 60 Minutes of Funk series. How did you apply that energy, excitement and replay value to a 2015 release?
DJ EFN: I think it was my passion of always wanting to do a project like this. That gave me the drive to create Another Time. For as long as I can remember, I wanted the chance to create an original album from top-to-bottom, and infuse it with my musical morals and passions. For various reasons I never was able to or got around to doing it, and finally the stars aligned for me to do it.
Ambrosia For Heads: “Who’s Crazy?” features a reunion between Scarface and DJ Premier, along with Stalley and Troy Ave. This record touches many corners of Hip-Hop, and works brilliantly. How challenging was it to execute? Did you sense Troy and Stalley understood the magnitude of this moment in their discographies?
DJ EFN: Going into the making of this album I had already decided most if not all the productions was going go be in-house—meaning Crazy Hood producers or local producers we work closely with—but I knew I wanted at least one feature type production. And at the top of my list was DJ Premier. My original idea was to have Rick Ross on a DJ Premier beat but that ended up not panning out, mainly due to scheduling reasons. So the opportunity to work with Scarface presented itself. And ‘Face was on my short list of artists I wanted on the project. I knew I wanted to pair up legends and newer artists; I thought not only would bring attention to the tracks but that I knew could equally rise to the lyrical occasion. And both Troy Ave and Stalley both did that.
But in the end, what really made this track special for me was the hook. And I always knew if I was going to work with Premier I was going to present vocals I had from working with Guru on my mixtapes in the past. Finally, what better way to brand myself in this culture but than to have one of the most iconic DJs/producers cut up vocals of the late and great Guru saying “DJ EFN,” and “Crazy Hood” and “Who’s Crazy?,” our companies slogan.
Ambrosia For Heads: That’s a good segway. Crazy Hood is a major part of your brand. It’s merchandise, a website, and certainly an echoed theme on this album. Tell me the back-story to the inspiration and purpose?
DJ EFN: My company was formed in 1993 and was originally comprised entirely of my high school crew. I was inspired by crews and collectives like Hit Squad, Boogie Down Productions, the Juice Crew, Native Tongues, Rhyme Syndicate, Wu-Tang Clan and the Likwit Crew. I was heavily involved as fan of Hip-Hop music and culture. As my high school graduation was approaching I decided I wanted to be more involved in developing my local Hip-Hop scene and maybe getting involved on the industry-side on some level with the hopes of making it a career. The name “Crazy” comes from my sanity or lack of at times, and “Hood” comes from both the hoodies we would wear and the idea that we were hoods or hoodlums due to the stigma given to Hip-Hop kids. The word “Productions” was my young way of making the name sound professional hence the full name Crazy Hood Productions.
Early on, I didn’t know exactly what or how I could break into the scene and I didn’t even have enough money to buy my first set of turntables. So we started by throwing local Hip-Hop parties and events eventually to go on to putting-out mixtapes, albums, managing artists, a marketing company, a clothing store, a most recently, dabbling in film.
Ambrosia For Heads: You’ve been both an integral part of the Miami scene and the underground scene. Did you ever feel pigeon-holed by either of those facts, when you were working with Shadowman and at the same time N.O.R.E., or putting Jedi Mind Tricks on a tape, but also playing some Miami Bass?
DJ EFN: Yes, I have [felt pigeonholed] both by being from Miami and being Cuban-American, but I always used that to fuel my wanting to break stereotypes. Early on, I was very passionate about representing and promoting Miami’s Hip-Hop scene. In the end, I feel I have a healthy respect for Miami-Bass, and southern culture as a whole without compromising my idea of Hip-Hop music and culture I want to create and promote.
Ambrosia For Heads: K-Def has notably remixed several of the songs from Another Time. Tell me about that connection, and the value of the remix—as a top DJ sees it—in 2015?
DJ EFN: K-Def came via our partnership with Redefinition Records, whom we partnered up with for all the physical [copies of] Another Time. What is crazy is that I was a fan of K-Def’s work especially the stuff he did as part of the group Real Live. So when the idea was brought up to do remixes with K-Def, I did not hesitate. As far as the importance of remixes goes, I think the art of remixes has been lost in Hip-Hop. I really loved remixes because it allowed you to hear a song you already loved in a new light, therefore extending the enjoyment a particular track could bring to you.
Ambrosia For Heads: With that, “Selfish” is a great song. King T, Fashawn and Kurupt sound so great together. All three of those MCs have multiple facets and styles. How did you orchestrate of the cohesiveness between the three, especially if from afar?
DJ EFN: As soon as I heard “Selfish” I knew I wanted the subject matter to be about drinking. I have to admit that we at Crazy Hood do like the drink ,and if I am going to talk about alcohol in a song there is no one better to rhyme about the subject other than the pioneer and legend King T, whom founded the Likwit Crew! And in the theme of which we wanted to maintain throughout the album where we would want to pair such a legend with a newer artists and it just so happens that this track embodied three consecutive generations of Hip-Hop, starting with King T, then Kurupt, and then Fashawn.
David Banner: I think [DJ] EFN did a great job with bringing Hip-Hop together. I think that’s the most important aspect of his album, personally.
Ambrosia For Heads: There are several MCs, whether Umar Bin Hassan or Kam, who don’t do a lot of appearances these days. McGruff and Defari fit into this build too. This was your album, tell me about not only the desire to call these skills into action, but hearing it on the songs that resulted ahead of that?
DJ EFN: Like you mentioned, this is my album and this album was not made with the pressure of trying to sell all kinds of records or make it to the pop charts. This album is something I always wanted to create, it is a passion project that, at the end of the day I just want to make something that I can be completely proud of and that I know my immediate circle can enjoy. Anything after that is a plus. So with that said, there are artists that I enjoyed throughout the years that I wanted to hear on this project. I knew these artist weren’t household names, but I knew what their legacy was and still is to Hip-Hop. I am putting on my DJ-hat and my taste-making-hat and trying to promote what I think people need to pay attention to. Artists like [Herb] McGruff who use to roll with Big L [in Children Of The Corn]. Defari, I feel, is one of the West’s most consistent MCs. If you think about masterpieces [like 2001, Dr. Dre] put together various MCs, from the unknown, to the pioneers, to the complete underground guy, and pieced it together in a way that collectively it all makes sense. I am sure each and every artist—and Defari and King T were on the Chronic 2001 album—Dre worked with, he did so because he either had respect for them or could hear the talent that [the masses] may be overlooking.
Ambrosia For Heads: Along those lines, “Revolutionary Ride Music” is just nuts. To reunite Buckwild with O.C. alone is historic, but to share the moment with Droog and Royce just makes this like a 12″ that you never knew existed. I’m not saying it sounds old, but it revives that excitement where you could believe it sat for ages. What does this joint mean to you?
DJ EFN: This record is extremely special due to the fact that it almost never happened. We had completed the project, but I had felt like I was missing something. I found a old folder of beats I had from Buckwild, which he had sent for a Wrekonize [The War Within] album. I heard that beat and I hit him up hoping the beat was still available. Once he told me it was, we went to work on who would be [great] on it. It was the very last record to be added to the album, which ended up setting me back a bit. But in the end, I am so glad I decided to go through the trouble of getting it done and on the album. And that classic sound you’re talking about is exactly what I wanted. I wanted a record that I know for a fact if this record was something that was released in 1993 it would been the biggest record of that time. Like I mentioned before, I hadn’t intended on getting outside producers other than than maybe Premier. But I am so glad I went the extra mile and got with Buck on, ’cause I think it is a classic! Not to mention that Buckwild is a D.I.T.C. legend.
Ambrosia For Heads: “Warrior” is such an uplifting moment. While N.O.R.E. and Banner were Penalty label-mates in the ’90s, working together—on paper, this one might look jarring to folks. Tell me how you presented it to these four powerful voices, that span genre, region, and style.
DJ EFN: Going into the project I knew I wanted to add that Caribbean influence that I got from being raised in Miami. When I heard the beat from Miami Beat Wave, immediately Sizzla was on the short list of Reggae artists I wanted on it. My good friend and executive producer on the project, Kether [Gallu-Badat], was able to track down Sizzla for us, and the rest just organically came together. Jon Connor delivered a monster verse and both N.O.R.E and [David] Banner both voiced that this was not their usual style of beat to flow to, but I truly thank them for trusting in my vision. Hence [we have a] very powerful song that is not only multi-generational, but multi-genre as well.
David Banner: For me, [“Warrior”] was really important, because where I am spiritually has really changed a lot. Sometimes people are caught in this void of [associating you with] whatever song you have that affected them the most. A friend of mine called me yesterday and he was like, “Brother, you haven’t made a strip club record in almost 10 years and that’s still what people know you from.” So this gave me an opportunity, with such a smorgasbord of amazing artists [to work with].
I wouldn’t even call what EFN does a “compilation,” because he’s so engrained in the culture that it’s almost like he uses artists as instruments, and it was just important to me. This was like a sounding-board for me. My cameo in the  Hip-Hop Cypher in the BET [Hip-Hop] Awards was sort of like the springboard, so [with] everything that I’ve done since then, my whole aim was just to totally smash. I guess like “The Hulk.” Because my name is David Banner, I always thought it was corny to use The Hulk…I think this is my first time using it in an interview, but it was sort of like “Hulk Smash.” Like, my whole place in The Avengers is to smash, but to do it with the wrath of righteousness.
There’s one thing I want to say about [Another Time] that I have never heard before—I really think that [DJ EFN] needs to get credit. My father always taught me [that] a man doesn’t brag on what he does. You tell people what you gon’ do, then you prove it, then you don’t say anything. You let other people say it. But I think it’s important for people to notice that he puts people on tracks who would have probably [never] even known each other. Maybe a backpack artist with a mainstream artist with an up-and-coming battle rapper. He gives people opportunities who maybe never would have even known each other. And in the case of [“Warrior”], who would have thought me and [N.O.R.E.] would have been able [to collaborate again]? We were label-mates from Penalty [Records], so it was almost like a family reunion and a rekindling of our friendship and our relationship, and I don’t think people are noticing that on this album. I don’t think [that] if you would have paid somebody a million dollars to say ‘Pick anybody’ that was on his record, you would never pick any of the people who were on the songs together, [people] who have never been on a song together. And I think that’s very, very important for Hip-Hop in general.
Ambrosia For Heads: David, your verse on “Warrior” dealt with a lot of heavy issues, such as Donald Sterling and The Los Angeles Clippers. Even though the song released a year later, if it’s not discussed, it seems forgotten. How important was it for you to go there?
David Banner: What the [Los Angeles] Clippers had the opportunity to do…if they would have walked off that court…do you know they would have been immortal? One fucking game. It’s crazy, they got our Black men playing for [championship] rings. Dude, [NBA players] make enough money to buy a million rings! They got us caught up in this concept of championships. That shit don’t matter to them billion dollar owners, dude. They don’t give a fuck about no shiny ring. It’s not my job to say what another man should do with his career, because those are million dollar mistakes, or million dollar games. But still, I think that it’s important to at least put it out there, so when it’s somebody else’s opportunity to step to the foreground, maybe they’ll do it. Because you don’t know what Chris Paul was going through. You don’t know what Blake [Griffin] was going through. But of the same token, man…if I could give an outside opinion about it, that would maybe, just maybe let people reflect and be like, “Damn, that was [an opportunity].”
If the Clippers would have walked off that court, dude, let me tell you what would have been big, and I’m just being very honest with you:White supremacy doesn’t respect but two things: That’s the loss of life, and that’s the loss of finances. Them turning their shirts around, us marching, none of that stuff really matters unless you affect finances. If they really wanted to hurt Donald Sterling…if them boys would have walked off that court and not played, do you know what that would have done to the Clipper brand? That would have brought everything to a halt, brother. That’s real power. If you still play the game, it don’t matter. It’s just like us marching. If you don’t shut down the stores [and] stop anybody from spending, it does not matter. For me, [“Warrior”] was also a release. Because that hurt me so bad. Just to see us have that opportunity on a global scale and fail. I believe we failed and like I said, for EFN to [accept and release my verse], that’s heavy.
Ambrosia For Heads: I have only one more question about “Warrior.” In the verse, David, you said something regarding George Zimmerman, and why you’re surprised he has not been shot. That was prophecy of sorts, as just this [month], he was shot for an isolated incident to the murder of Trayvon Martin. To what extent—and maybe not just in the case of “Warrior”—but are you ever amazed at whenever you say something on a record, only to watch it come true after?
David Banner: We’re warriors. We’re supposed to defend our family. What’s crazy even about [George] Zimmerman [is] I’m surprised nobody has come back and apologized to Trayvon’s family, because now we see the dude is unstable. [The judicial system] made a mistake. And nobody has even said anything about that, brother. And it bothers me as an African-American. We talk all of this stuff and we act so gangster and we poke our chest out and we’ll kill somebody if they don’t bring back our dope, but [when there are] people who infringe on our community? You know this and I know this, If somebody did something to somebody in a Russian community, or any other community besides Black people, that community is going to take care of it. You don’t have to worry about the cops, and I don’t care what religion they are. And that just bothers me. It really, really, really bothers me. And just as a Hip-Hop community, we’re going to have to be more aggressive about our culture, if you really love this thing called Hip-Hop.That’s the reason why I said what I said during the [BET] Hip-Hop cypher. And if you notice after the Hip-Hop cypher, what I said changed. And I honestly believe it’s because I said what I said at the end of the Hip-Hop cypher. We have to start using our voice for something else […] We have to start nurturing our culture, using our voice for something that matters. That doesn’t mean all music has to be positive. I don’t believe that. I believe that if all music were positive, we would need another N.W.A., but not 17 of ’em.
Ambrosia For Heads: EFN, I wanted to close discussing your film projects. Going with “no expectations” as you told REVOLT to these faraway places, how do you balance the organic approach to filmmaking and storytelling with the confines of a production schedule, or knowing that things can progress slowly or quickly?
DJ EFN: As of right now we do some research before going to a country. And also, [we] try to connect with someone credible on the ground that can point us in the right direction. We tell this point person or persons, the main things we are looking for and then they help connect us with folks and places. Other than that, anything goes once we are in country. We are not a big budget production, so we just go with the flow and rely on the various people we meet connecting us with the next person. So far this approach has worked for what we are doing. Keep in mind, these films are just as much about our experience traveling that it is about the Hip-Hop scene in these countries. There is no way we can cover or do justice to a countries entire Hip-Hop scene, so all we want to do is offer up a snapshot at which point we hope the viewer is intrigued enough to research some more.
Ambrosia For Heads: We all talk about Hip-Hop’s global impact. As a veteran, how has seeing/feeling it changed your perceptions?
DJ EFN: Seeing and knowing the global impact of Hip-Hop, I feel we as Americans have more of a responsibility of what we put out. I understand Hip-Hop is a form of entertainment, but I think Hip-Hop was set up to be more then just entertainment; it was meant to be more of a social movement that can empower the voiceless. So with that being said, it bothers me when I see the negative influence Hip-Hop can have not only in our country, but outside where they take things these rappers say even more literal. In no way am I someone saying we need Hip-Hop to be a preachy do-no-wrong music and completely lose our edge, but I feel we need to offer more of balance as a movement and a culture. It’s refreshing as well as sad to hear the people we meet in these countries tell us [Americans] have lost our way in Hip-Hop or that we have sold out.
Ambrosia For Heads: Whether Cuba, Peru, or Haiti, tell me about the global lens and its role in Crazy Hood Film Academy’s mission?
DJ EFN: Honestly, I take it one film at a time but truth be told I just wanted to marry two things that I love which is travel and Hip-Hop. I truly feel we can learn more about ourselves traveling abroad.
Ambrosia For Heads: What is next for these films?
DJ EFN: We plan on going to more countries and so far REVOLT is on board, which we are very grateful for, but whether it is REVOLT or someone else, our goal is to produce an entire season to present back-to-back as a weekly aired show.